Bersih 3.0 is jumping the gun
|Kapil is an advertising strategist based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at [email protected]|
APRIL 13 — Consider this. Between Bersih 1.0 and 2.0, four years passed with no action on the demands of the group by the authorities. Between Bersih 2.0 in July last year and now, a parliamentary select committee (PSC) was formed; both Opposition and government representatives took part, held extensive public consultations, and recommended 22 measures to improve the conduct of elections, in the process agreeing with seven of the eight demands of Bersih.
Consider this, too. No dates for the next general election have been announced, the head of the Election Commission (EC) has publicly promised to take steps to implement the recommendations of the PSC speedily. Yet the leader of Bersih, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan has announced a Bersih 3.0 sit-in at Dataran Merdeka on April 28 because they are convinced that the government will hold elections before the recommendations of the PSC are implemented by the EC.
While it is apparent that there is significant public support for the cause of improving the conduct of elections, in light of the above, it must be asked whether the largely civil society base of Bersih supporters are being taken for a partisan ride in favour of opposition politicians by committing to yet another demonstration that might be premature.
Fair-minded voters, or fence sitters if you like, are bound to ask the question of why the worst should be always thought of the designs of Barisan Nasional when in this instance they seem to be doing pretty much what Bersih had originally demanded.
Just because in some instances, like the Peaceful Assembly Act and the ISA replacement act, the government seems to be talking with a forked tongue should not mean that even when they are doing something right, they should be demonised because of their past history.
From hanging chads in the US presidential elections to vote buying in India, no democracy is seen to be conducting perfectly clean elections. Incumbents will always try and manipulate the process to their advantage, and losers will always complain. Clean elections are always a work in progress. Nevertheless, governments do change through the ballot box, even when the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of the incumbent.
Now that most of their demands have been met, for Bersih to insist that unless they are met within a timeframe of their choosing or they will take to the streets immediately smacks of a political vendetta. If Bersih is truly apolitical it must acknowledge that the tremendous success of its campaign for free and fair elections has a lot to do with the efforts put in by both sides of the political divide.
If it does acknowledge this, why the unseemly rush to have a protest? Demonstrate only when all other options have been exhausted, not when the other side is responding to your demands. Otherwise Bersih runs the risk of alienating the very people it is meant to be representing by appearing to have a political rather than a civil agenda.
If the government has any real communication strategy, it should be about reassuring Bersih and the ordinary voter of its time bound commitment to implementing the PSC recommendations. If Bersih still insists on going ahead, they should bend over backwards to facilitate it, knowing that only partisan opposition supporters would attend, successfully positioning Bersih as a Pakatan Rakyat organisation rather than a civil society movement.
On the other hand, for Bersih to carry on its crusade while being seen to be above the political fray, it should positively acknowledge the progress made on its demands by both political coalitions, while continuing to publicly press for further reforms. There is a reason why a carrot and stick policy always yields better returns than just the stick.
Street demonstrations this soon after the PSC recommendations could turn the overwhelming popular success of Bersih 2.0 into the worst possible failure: Popular indifference to Bersih 3.0.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.